The first chapter of the 2020 Miami Dolphins season is now in the books, and we’ve begun to learn the progress made by head coach Brian Flores with this football team. The Dolphins started the season on Sunday against the New England Patriots, in the familiar confines of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. In a stadium lacking the hostility of prior matchups, what were the key takeaways from the Dolphins Week 1 visit to the Patriots?
Miami Dolphins Week 1 Takeaways
Dolphins’ run defense woes continue in the 2020 season opener
One of the most significant weaknesses of this Miami team in 2019 was the run defense or lack thereof. The unit ranked at the bottom in terms of rushing yards-per-game last season, and that weakness reared its ugly head in Week 1 against the Cam Newton-led Patriots. Sony Michel, Newton, and company routinely gashed this Dolphins defense for significant gains and two touchdowns on the ground.
Historically, Newton has been a catalyst for top running teams during his team with Carolina, and his first week in New England was no different. Miami will get back to the drawing board upfront, as this journey gets no easier with a Week 2 battle against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. Like Newton, Allen also scored a rushing touchdown in Week 1, coming against the Jets. He will provide a big challenge once again for this young Dolphins’ defense.
The early start against two top rushing teams and two-division opponents will provide a real test for this upstart Dolphins team in 2020. Flores will attempt to make some adjustments during the week and come out better prepared against Buffalo in the home opener at Hard Rock Stadium this weekend. If the Dolphins can split these two division games, that will give this team some hope moving forward.
Turnovers prove costly against opportunistic Patriots’ defensive unit
This was a game where the Patriots ran the ball well and controlled the time of possession, but the Dolphins did not help their cause with three turnovers. I mentioned turnovers as a key to the game this week, and the Dolphins were not able to win that battle in Foxborough this week. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick never looked comfortable and failed to get into any real rhythm during this Week 1 encounter.
In total, Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions and zero touchdowns against the Patriots. After losing DeVante Parker to a re-aggravated hamstring injury in the third quarter, the Dolphins’ quarterback and the passing offense struggled mightily. If Parker’s injury turns out to be an extended one, the team will need their young receivers to step up big-time in the interim.
Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’ Davious White and a strong Buffalo secondary await the Dolphins in Week 2 to provide a big test for potential new de facto number one receiver, Preston Williams, and the rest of the pass-catchers. If the team can do a better job of running the ball and using their short passing game in the coming weeks, that should take some pressure off Fitzpatrick and the offensive line.
Are Wilkins and Gaskin ready for giant second-year leaps?
Two players that stood out in this loss were second year running back Myles Gaskin and sophomore defensive lineman, Christian Wilkins. Although newcomer Jordan Howard received the start, it was Gaskins who received the majority of the Week 1 touches for the Dolphins. Gaskins finished with nine carries for 40 yards and four catches for 26 yards.
With the lack of preseason, the team looked comfortable with Gaskins navigating drives with the offense. He was a player that received some run during his rookie season in 2019. Gaskins wasn’t the only bright spot on the team this week, as 2019 first-round NFL Draft pick Christian Wilkins flashed during the contest as well. Early on, Wilkins recorded a sack on Cam Newton while getting into the backfield consistently for big stops.
Wilkins recorded six total stops, including two for a loss and the sack. As a potential cornerstone for this young Miami defense, Wilkins’ development will be vital to watch for Dolphins’ fans as well as Flores. If he can show the explosion and elite gap-penetrating ability he showed for the Clemson Tigers, this Dolphins defensive front will be much improved in 2020. He has the chance to establish himself as a top-10 interior lineman this season, and Sunday was a crucial first step.